Opinion | Reconsidering the Bank Street Surrender at SPHS

The City's motion to possibly cordon off the section of walkway between Diamond and Fremont Avenues on the SPHS campus may have repercussions for civilians

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | The right-of-way walkway connecting Diamond Ave, and Fremont Ave at SPHS

Buried on the South Pasadena City Council’s consent agenda tonight is a resolution to surrender, or “vacate,” a 600-foot section of Bank Street, a non-vehicular city right-of-way that traverses South Pasadena High School between Diamond and Fremont Avenues.

Presently, this right-of-way provides a pleasant shortcut for pedestrians, especially on evenings and weekends. It is also the site of the famed “Numbered Walkway”–a row of 52 stones commemorating SPHS classes 1927 through 1978–a cultural resource that was previously threatened and saved from destruction 20 years ago. If approved as presented, access to the walkway could be shut off to residents and visitors alike.

The city’s explanation for the vacation has been, at best, a moving target.

In its March 25, 2019 resolution (19-05), the city’s Planning Commission said its purpose was “to provide additional land area for South Pasadena High School and connect campus properties to the north and south.” This reasoning bears no scrutiny, as there is nothing in the right-of-way blocking the north and south sides of campus.

The resolution the city is considering tonight states the purpose is “to construct a new building over Bank Street.” The accompanying April 17, 2019 Staff Report records the District made the request to enable it “to construct a proposed classroom building,” namely, the new STEM building.

But significantly, the new STEM building has already been built. In fact, it is set to be dedicated next week!

The conflict in the stated purpose between the Planning Commission and City Council resolutions is further compounded by examining the only copy of the District application actually on file with the city. There, the one-line reason the District gives for its application is that it is “in the interest of student and staff safety.” Neither the pretense of connectivity memorialized in the Planning Commission resolution nor of construction in the City’s are even mentioned.

Another curiosity is that the District’s application is both stamped and dated March 19, 2019, fully a week AFTER the city published its notice of the application.

While passing a resolution for a purpose that manifestly no longer exists may constitute sloppy governing, this and the item’s other infirmaries are not why it should be tabled.

The District’s actual intent was made clear at this month’s School Board meeting. The Superintendent said the District ultimately hopes to seal off each end of the right-of-way with new gates. This, he said, would be “in support of a more safe campus.”

The District’s intent, however garbled in the processing of its application, is laudable and legitimate.

But neither the District nor the Planning Commission gave adequate consideration to pedestrian and cultural considerations. With respect to the commission, this is principally because, incredibly, neither city code nor policy sufficiently emphasize the importance of South Pasadena’s walkability.

The City ought not so easily and permanently foreswear the Bank Street right-of-way. It is the understanding of The South Pasadenan News that the District’s concern is only for when students are actually present. Therefore, the Council should table the item. It should be placed back on the agenda only after the City, the District and the public have thoroughly explored the prospect for conditions that are sensitive to school hours while at the same time preserving some form of access for public and cultural purposes.

 

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